Politics

Cuadrilla briefed shale gas commissioner for radio interview – deleted emails reveal

190404 Natascha Engel smaller

Natascha Engel, speaking at an industry seminar on 4 April 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The fracking company, Cuadrilla, helped the former shale gas commissioner, Natascha Engel, prepare for a radio interview, according to emails she deleted.

The emails, retrieved by the government, also show that Ms Engel congratulated Cuadrilla on a media day to launch fracking at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire.

In the space of three months, the emails show she arranged several meetings with Cuadrilla senior staff, including one at Starbucks in Preston. She also shared with the chief executive a letter she sent to media editors criticising negative reporting of Cuadrilla’s fracking operation.

Ms Engel was appointed as a “point of contact with residents” to “listen to their concerns, refer them to relevant and factual research and help improve communication with regulation and industry”.

But the emails confirm the close relationship she had with the fracking industry, previously revealed by DrillOrDrop in an analysis of her diary.

Ms Engel had previously admitted deleting her correspondence. She told Greenpeace:

“I tend to deal with everything on the day and delete what has been done to avoid any huge build-ups or risk of duplication.

“The same is true of the few notes I take in meetings which I review in the evenings, action and throw away.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) retrieved and released 15 email threads following an investigation by the Information Commissioner.

The emails were handed to Greenpeace’s investigative news website, Unearthed, which had sought their disclosure in a Freedom of Information request.

They cover the start of Ms Engel’s appointment from October 2018 to early January 2019. She resigned in April 2019 in frustration at regulations on fracking-induced earth tremors.

Advice on radio interview

Cuadrilla’s communications manager contacted Ms Engel at 9.08pm on a Sunday evening in January 2019, the emails reveal.

The shale gas commissioner was due to do a local radio interview the following morning about a presumption against fracking agreed by 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester.

The communications manager began the email:

“Conscious you’re on BBC Radio Lancashire tomorrow so I wanted to share this”.

The executive picked out the sections on the new policy from a 1,000+ page document and added:

“Hope this is helpful if you are asked in the morning. Initial press rumblings suggest there are some very big issues in the document for local people and the loud anti fracking fanfare which launched it is merely a PR smokescreen.

“Shout if I can help further.”

Ms Engel replied that evening:

“That is so helpful – thank you! I’ve just been trying to find the references and really struggled.”

The following day, at 7.21am, the communications manager emailed:

“Just listened into Radio Lancashire [REMAINDER OF SENTENCE REDACTED].

“If you’re asked – for info we have said many times we’ve demobbed equipment we don’t own and don’t need and have moved into flow testing as planned.”

Ms Engel replied:

“Thank you!”

An hour later, the communications manager said:

“Well done – great job in difficult circumstances”.

Ms Engel replied:

“Thanks. Not great but it never is!”

Later that day, the pair arranged to have coffee before Ms Engel had a meeting with Cuadrilla’s technical director, Mark Lappin, and was due to attend the Preston New Road community liaison group.

Congratulations on fracking launch

The emails also show that Ms Engel congratulated Cuadrilla’s communications staff on a media event to launch the UK’s first high volume frack of a horizontal shale gas well.

Writing on Sunday 7 October 2018, she said:

“Well done on Friday. I thought your publicity day went really well!”

On the same day, Cuadrilla emailed Ms Engel about the news of her appointment. The communications manager said:

“Hope you are well – thought your announcement played out fine on Friday.”

The appointment had been greeted with astonishment by some opponents of fracking. They were suspicious of Ms Engel because the year before she had been commissionedby the fracking company, Ineos Shale, to write a leaflet on shale gas.

Criticism of media

181026 BGS chart

Extract from British Geological Survey list of seismic events around the British Isles since the Blackpool activity began.

Fracking at Preston New Road began on 17 October 2018, a fortnight after news of Ms Engel’s appointment was announced.

Within days, the British Geological Survey was recording seismic activity linked to the operation. Some of the more powerful tremors were in late October and were widely reported by local and national media.

In mid-November 2018, Ms Engel wrote to editors saying she was “alarmed at the effect” that some of the coverage was having on people.

She called for reporting to be “more rational and science-based” to inform and educate rather than make people afraid.

The retrieved emails revealed that on 14 November 2018, Ms Engel emailed a copy of her letter to Francis Egan, the chief executive of Cuadrilla.

Fracking meetings

There were no main fracks at Preston New Road in November or early December.

Ms Engel met Cuadrilla’s commercial and projects director, Laura Hughes, for a breakfast meeting in a Preston branch of Starbucks on 26 November 2018.

The meeting was arranged by the company’s communications manager. Ms Engel emailed afterwards:

“Thank you very much for arranging the meeting with Laura. It all went very smoothly and it was great to meet her.”

Cuadrilla replied:

“It was a pleasure to help and I do extend apologies that it was only a Starbucks but it was the only place I knew would definitely be open before 9am

“If I can be of further assistance in the future, please let me know”.

The emails also showed that Ms Engel was arranging meetings with Ineos executives in November 2018. A date appears to have been agreed for 7 December 2018. A year before her appointment as shale gas commissioner, Ms Engel had been commissioned by Ineos to write documents on fracking.

On 17 December 2018, after fracking resumed at Preston New Road, Ms Engel met Mr Egan and Matt Lambert, Cuadrilla’s director of government and public affairs, the emails reveal.

“Hand-in-glove relationship”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, told Unearthed:

“The emails and meeting notes should never have been deleted, and it should not have taken the intervention of the ICO to prise them out of the clutches of BEIS.

“Now that the emails have seen the light of day, it is easy to see why the Government might not have wanted them to. They reveal a hand in glove relationship between the fracking commissioner and the fracking industry, even to the point of briefing the commissioner before interviews.”

“Very serious failures”

The Information Commissioner’s Office said there had been no criminal act in the deletion of emails. But said there were “very serious and egregious record keeping and management failures on the part of the office of Commissioner for Shale Gas.”

It said there had been a “failure to conform to the Section 46 code of practice in that the former Shale Gas Commissioner did not have in place an appropriate records management policy.”

  • The government has not replaced Ms Engel as shale gas commissioner. In July 2019, PR Week reported that she had joined the campaigns and policy consultancy Public First as a partner.

Updated 16/6/2020 to include quotes confirmed by the Information Commissioner’s Office

22 replies »

  1. Yet another example of Government collusion with the industry in contrast to boasts of gold standard regulation.
    The voters of NE Derbyshire kicked Ms Engels our but the real question is how on earth the Labour Party selected her as an MP in the first place.
    Another excellent DoD report!

    • A shale Gas Commissioner carefully chosen because she does not know her subject matter. Unsurprising and yet another reason why well organised communities joined together to pummel a start up industry peddling lies about cheap gas for the UK, tens of thousands of well paid jobs and stupidly thinking they could win over the hearts of the UK public and hoodwink the Government. How very very wrong they were. No public support, no gas, fleeing investors, staff layoffs, show stopping technical mistakes and dwindling Government support. Maybe Ms Engels was wise enough to see errors in her judgement and got out before it all turned to nothing.

  2. Oh, and of course, organisations like FOE, Greens etc. have not, and do not, brief anti individuals and groups!!??

    So, we have a lady who had a responsibility to be informed, ermm, becoming informed, from the one company in UK who at the time could inform her. Wasting so much public money at-Starbucks! A meeting before 9am! Good job that the work ethic was so strong.

    Shock/horror/conspiracy.

    Really desperate attempt. DoD-this is a long way from Gold Standard.

    • Don’t you know that the way to be informed is to go and talk to people who know bugger all about a subject and ignore the people who do actually have some knowlege. It’s known as the Long-Bailey (Wrong-Daily) method.

    • I would like to think, as I am an individual, that Ministers would review situations from a balanced point of view not just from a one-eyed propaganda and profit led perspective before deciding their own stance.
      It would be very worthwhile exercise to discover what negative aspects of the fracking concept the lady investigated, legal cases from mature fracking locations worldwide based on earthquake damage, water pollution and citizens personal and livestock welfare for example.
      If this was the case and she overrode these issues there would be great public interest. If she never even considered this ever growing database of evidence, that would be extreme negligence by a Public Servant appointed to keep us safe from exploitation.

  3. The loss of Labour seats to the Conservatives is of keen interest to those who live there (relatives) and those observing from the fringes.

    The rot (or new wood) started in Mansfield and seem to spread from there.

    I think a quote from an ex Labour voter (BBC News) is of interest, especially in relation to why politicians or those with a political post (such as shale gas commissioner) need to be carefull about who they have coffee with.

    ……

    Lifelong Bolsover resident and mother-of-six (aged), 36, said people stopped trusting in Labour.

    “Voting for Labour felt like a wasted vote,” she said. “I voted for the Conservatives. It hurt – I didn’t want to – but I felt I should vote for someone.”

    She said she felt “surprised” Mr Skinner lost his seat but added: “No-one round here has any faith in Jeremy Corbyn.”

    “It’s the things he’s done in the past, like the IRA stuff,” she said. “If Labour got a new leader, people would be a lot happier.

    “I think people voted more tactically than from actually wanting to vote for the Conservatives. My family have voted Labour all my life.”

    ……..

    To be seen colluding with terrorists while professing to be following the path of peace did nothing for Jeremy it seems although I am sure the conservatives now in power across the area will have a keen eye on how Kier Starmer performs.

    Always good to keep MPs on their toes I guess.

    Meanwhile, good to see that the OGA, HSEx and EA have not been drinking coffee in Starbucks with Cuadrilla (although they do swap mails, talk to each other and meet) and hopefully, being regulators, never clean out their inbox.

    https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2019/04/29/uk-fracking-shale-gas-commissioner-but-her-emails/

    • If we’re talking politics rather than oil and gas, the hatchet jobs on True Labour, under Jeremy Corbyn in recent years, carried out by the local and national media was a concerted attack and truly undemocratic in my opinion.
      The Tories were elected to ‘…get Brexit done’ with all that entails. This has clearly not happened, virtually all their promises on content have been removed already in negotiations or otherwise.
      Tory handling of the Coronavirus scandal has been a disaster but has proved an excellent opportunity for the rollout of 5g and the rushed promotion of potentiallty dangerous and unnecessary vaccinations. We’re now supposed to resume mingling which will obviously increase transfer of whatever infections are circulating. Close contact on buses, trains or in shopping malls is not being prevented. Beware!

      • Well, Brexit is done Peter, in that the UK has left the EU. Our future relationship is the bit that is being discussed. As it is with USA, Japan and many others.

        My mingling is under my control. I mingle where I feel it is currently safest to mingle. I am mingling with my dentist this afternoon after managing an infected tooth for around 3 months unable to mingle it out! My wife is mingling with her Consultant on Saturday. Both parts of the health service have let us know what controls will be in place, and the mingling is pretty controlled if we follow their instructions. Football starts again this week and mingling will be somewhat different. Okay for players, not for supporters.

        As and when a vaccine is available, then individuals will make up their own minds as to whether to have it. I have a winter flu jab, wifey does not. It really is not that difficult.

        Yes, the media are to blame for Jeremy! They should have exposed him long ago but perhaps they recognised the public were already in that place? Mr. Ashworth realised that and yet thought it wise to then try and fool the same public! 10 more years to get a reasonable number in Government who are willing and able to govern, rather than just try and fool the public.

        Probably about the same time it takes to restructure a football club, or another business!

  4. hewes62:

    She was obviously unsuited to Labour. Working before 9am would certainly disqualify her.

    (Do you mean Sir Kier, the collector of ferrets and cloth caps?)

    [Edited by moderator]

    • Martin

      Yes, it would be that Sir Kier. More of a threat to the cons than the last one, and hoping that coronavirus and brexit have departed come the next election.

      • hewes62

        Another four and a half years of Sir Kier and I suspect we will all be bored sick!

        Like Mr. Grieve, an obviously intelligent guy, but there are not many PMs that have arrived at that position simply by demonstrating their intelligence.

        It is a strange world where the working class can associate more with someone like Boris than the leader of the Labour Party. Imperfections can actually offer empathy, and perfection can offer distance. Then there is the metropolitan continuance, even though more John Lewis than Poundland.

        Covid-19 and Brexit will certainly be remembered and considered, but I have seen nothing from Sir Kier that shows he had any chance of doing any better on either, indeed, he will carry the baggage of his Brexit “strategy” for a long time to come. He also has a little problem with the demise of the Lib. Dems, so his only partner to form a coalition is the SNP, and that is not going to win back many seats in England!

        • PS.

          Just watched Sir Kier replying to Boris.

          Oh dear. Suggesting a Government and Prime Minister can not, or should not, multi task is a strange approach. Especially, when it is aimed at dealing with an issue many in the lost seats wanted sorted. (Here’s some JCBs to repair your irrigation systems. Sorry, nothing for your Spice Girls.)

          That will not have been lost upon some advisors!

  5. Do you mean Cuadrilla relayed information and facts to support their cause… call it what you like but I’m sure the greener than greens have done a lot worse!

  6. Peter. Yes, as the report is about politics, the i guess replies will be.

    It would be similar to one saying…Care Home Czar spoke to Care Home Owner in Starbucks, deleted e.mails reveal. Or something similar.

    But you touch on an interesting point re the performance of the gov. When walking around the village and chatting to people the performance of the gov crops up. But it is best to wait for further information as to which way their thinking goes. Some are for more lockdown, some think lockdown is a crock and all restrictions should be lifted tomorrow (ie we should not have locked down). Best to just pop some facts on tbe table. In the village of over 4000 people, only one person has died of coronavirus, and so far, no one i have met knows anyone who has had it.
    The best question after that is …..what should the gov so next to help us contain coronavirus while getting the economy back on track?

    • Interesting local knowledge comment from I’m not sure where Hewes62. We live in a Lancashire village of about 2000 homes but with the massive Bae factory manned by over 5000 workers here. Like you I’m not aware of people passing away due to Coronavirus over the last six months or so but I’m sure the usual number of people have passed away with Coronavirus, just like dying with tooth decay or with arthritis.
      Plenty of people have shown signs of hay fever and spring/summer colds though.

      • Peter K R

        I live in Lincolnshire, which has been only lightly affected in terms of infections and death, Our hot spot has been Boston.
        The reasons will be forthcoming one day I expect – low population density, lots of space,….whatever.
        The regional data was interesting – we are the same as Dumfries and Galloway in terms of deaths due to Covy.
        So I read the various predictions with interest (especially my Scottish contacts who have a view of the Scottish response from saintly (Nicola is a saint) to Nicola is criminally insane and too many have died due to a botched approach. I leave it with them as like England there are areas more affected than others and or with higher R numbers, but they do not know exactly why.

    • So why were the emails disclosure so hard to come by? Sadly very few regular folk trust politicians and their advisers nowadays.

      • Perhaps she is a Virgo and just likes keeping her inbox tidy, Peter?

        Or, you could just attempt to generate the conspiracy. Might be difficult, as the E mails showed a perfectly normal situation. Much more interesting would be to try and identify why the UK Greens have a huge number of” leaders” when they have suffered such a loss of MEPs! Perhaps it is a wish to show their alternatives are just so inefficient that you need huge numbers of them to try and justify.

  7. I tried to arrange community meetings with Engel on more than one occasion, booking rokms, getting people together. She cancelled at the last minute, every time. I wonder if my emails are there.

    • I attended community meetings where Ms. Engel was present and spoke.
      It was unanimously agreed that the meetings were informative, balanced and of benefit by those who attended, but that type of information or headline would never create the necessary excitement on DoD.

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